Sunday, February 27, 2011

Parenting: March Issue

Here we are, with another issue of Parenting in its new, weird design. Something new from last issue is the new “Modern Parent Handbook,” a series of five or so small sidebars that appear throughout the magazine. Last issue, though a “Modern Parent Handbook” was promised on the cover, it referred only to a few articles on “useful” topics. This month, there were dedicated sidebars all on the subject of Etiquette. Note that there’s nothing about them in the table of contents. You have to read the issue with an eagle eye to find them—and even then you might not. I missed some, and I was reading thoroughly to find material for my Commentary. Come on, designers. Take a page from the overzealous copyeditor’s handbook and take your job too seriously.

Needless to say, my Commentary will exclusively focus on “Modern Parent Handbook: Etiquette.” Because if you’re going to make me search for the tips, they had better be worth my while—and, of course, they were not. Here, a selection of my top tips.

“Tip #1: Practice phone etiquette using a banana, then let him answer the next call.”

COMMENTARY: Does this writer even have a kid? Because if she (an assumption on the she here) does, she might have known that even a child as young as Lucia doesn’t care a whit for a banana as a toy phone if there’s a real phone around. Sure, use imagination, etc. But Lucia has two loves in life: our cell phones, and her toy phone that looks exactly like our cordless phone and makes realistic sounds when she presses all the buttons. A banana would fall far, far short.

“Tip #2: Make a game out of germs. Encourage your kids to ‘catch’ their sneeze in their elbow and trade it in for points (and tissues).”

COMMENTARY: I have no words for how ridiculous this seems. Oh, wait, yes I do. Seriously? “Catching” a sneeze for points? I don’t yet have a child old enough to engage in a points-based game, but would such a child really find this interesting and fun, and motivation enough to cover their mouth? Finally, does anyone actually use their elbow to catch a sneeze, even though this is the going recommendation for reducing the spread of germs? Am I alone here in spreading germs the old-fashioned way? Perhaps it’s time to do some soul-searching. Thanks, Parenting.

“Tip #6: Teach them ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in other languages. Adults will appreciate the classiness; kids will think it sounds funny.”

COMMENTARY: Right, because what I want to encourage in my kids is disrespect for and ridicule of other languages. “Mom, ‘gracias’ sounds so dumb! English is the best!” I’ve never thought Parenting had any kind of political agenda—in fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find a first-person article in this issue about a same-sex couple in Park Slope—but this just seems so xenophobic, teaching all the wrong lessons. Also: classiness? Encouraging a child to name-drop French terms seems a bit too…precious. A bit too Alex from Real Housewives of New York City.

Well. I know I said I’d focus exclusively on the Etiquette tips, but I just have to note a couple of other things as well.

First, a suggestion in “FAMiLY,” in the article “Backyard Olympics, says, “Have everyone collect sticks and spell out letters, words, and special messages. Want to make the task tougher? Have them build a tunnel of branches to crawl through.” Even an enthusiastic fort-builder like myself simply can’t piece together the logistics of building a tunnel with branches. How about a pile of branches for a bonfire? Now that’s good fun. (I’m serious.)

Second, there was a kids’ clothing fashion spread in this issue. Hideous. Over-prompted, over-dressed children modeling $68 skirts and $72 boots. Lucia enjoyed looking over my shoulder at the kids as I was paging through this issue, and I promised her I would never, ever dress her like the little girl in the spread. Too, too much.

See you next month.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Paris, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Connellsville

Several months ago, buoyed by my successful weaning of Lucia and our return to NYC, Andrew and I decided we’d go to Paris for a long weekend and leave Lucia with our mothers, who expressed eagerness to spend a few days with the baby in Brooklyn. As we talked more about it, however, we both felt a bit uneasy about being so far away; so we revised our getaway plan and set our sights on Montreal. We bought a guidebook, found frequent flier tickets, and began planning our trip. Then Andrew’s dad had surgery and my dad broke his foot, which meant the grandmas were no longer available.

We then decided to come to Connellsville for President’s Day weekend—and we planned to escape overnight to a nice hotel in Pittsburgh and at least have one night away. Then Lucia threw up on the flight from Laguardia to Pittsburgh (Andrew caught the vomit in his hands! He’s passed some sort of parenthood trial!), and the next day she had a fever of 103, and then her two hinted-at molars came through in force, and then a THIRD molar appeared, turning her into—by turns—a lethargic and monstrous baby. We managed to get pizza and beer by ourselves at Bud Murphy’s on Saturday night. So much for Paris.

And now we are in Connellsville unexpectedly for an extra night because of an unexpected snowstorm. We were already dreading our flight back today—Lucia is just not herself, going on two days of food refusal; and we weren’t booked on the same flight, upping the stress quotient. And though I have traveled alone to far-flung places—Poland! Iceland!—I was filled with abject terror at the idea of a solo, 1.5-hour flight with my sixteen-month-old. Stories of sitting, trapped, on a plane for hours at a perpetually clogged Laguardia were all I could think about. So this morning we decided to just ditch the flight and drive back. The thought of getting on a plane was just too much. And we need to get our car back at some point anyway.

So tonight we set out—only to find ourselves in an intense snowstorm before we even got on the turnpike. Wheels slipping every which way, even 40 mph a stretch, we turned back. And now here we are, still in Connellsville, a good five inches already on the ground outside. We’ll set out again tomorrow.

Overall we’re glad we came, because Lucia was such a mess it was good to have some backup. But we’ve learned something this weekend: that our days of flying from NYC to Pittsburgh are over. It’s just so much easier to drive, and it takes almost the exact same amount of time door to door. (And driving allows us to stock up on cheap pantry staples from Pechin’s.)

Oh, and our flights turned out to be cancelled anyway. We are quite happy to have avoided a wasted trip to the airport and hours and hours of pointless waiting. It’s much nicer to be sitting here in Cville, devouring a bag of Pechin’s pepperoni rolls.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Letter to Lucia: 16 Months

Dear Little One,

Happy sixteen-month birthday, little toddler. Every day brings something new right now, and it’s almost hard to keep up with all the changes. Some things are easy to record: you love apples, you’re getting two molars, you love your noise-making toy phone, you walk with authority. Others are harder. Words, for example—you repeat like a little parrot, often very precisely, but what to count as new words? Only those you offer on your own, I think, in the right situation or in reference to the right object. Your new ones are socks, shoes, and more.

You are still the cutest baby ever. But you are also becoming a bit of a wild card on some days, spurred—I hope—by teething. Some days nothing pleases you, or you become fixated on something forbidden—a wine cork, a pencil, Andrew’s computer—and cannot be distracted, becoming more and more angry. But you are also very often giggly and squealing—as we look at each other over and under the coffee table, which thrills you; as I hide behind a tall tower of big blocks and peek at you, which you find hilarious; as I use funny voices to say funny things in your favorite books. Voices please you, and you seem to understand when I’m saying something in a silly way, even if it’s something completely strange, like “Shrimps for sale!” (an actual line from a current favorite book).

You are not a very big fan of large groups of children, but with one other baby around you seem to have fun, as long as that child is your size and not too boisterous. Otherwise you keep to my side, or stay at the edges of the group. I’m seeing this same thing now that the weather is milder, mild enough, at least, to go to the playground for a bit. Though you walk rapidly and confidently all around the house—down the hallway, in and out of all the rooms, everywhere—as soon as we put you down outside, you squirm and hold your arms up and say “Up!”, refusing to take a step. At the playground today you stood by my side and ate Cheerios, opting out of exploring. I don’t know if you’re intimidated by the prospect of getting hurt or by other children or what, but I’m determined to change this. I need you to like the playground, because once it’s nice outside, I need you to play hard and take good naps.

Because you’re not taking good naps right now. You’ve steadily dwindled from one hour to forty minutes to thirty minutes, and this just cannot be. You need more rest; I need work time. I’ve blamed it on teething, on the winter, but who knows. So I’m holding out hope that good outdoor play in the spring will get your nap back on track. And so, dear one, I need you to like going outside. Hopefully you just need a bit of time to adjust to the outdoors. You certainly loved the playground in Mountain View—we spent hours there, and you weren’t even walking yet! Once it’s warmer perhaps you’ll come around.

Every now and then you do something that completely shocks me. Like yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, I made a butterfly by crossing my wrists and hooking my thumbs, something I do often when we see pictures of butterflies—and you did it yourself, with the wrist-cross and everything. And last night, when I was picking up some of your toys and suggested you bring some books to the bookshelf, you did—carefully carrying over a small stack and placing them on the shelf. You understand absolutely everything we’re saying right now, which is kind of a marvel.

Exactly two years ago (well, two years ago from the 14th), we found out we were expecting you. Now you’re here, and how!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rough Day

Friday was one of the toughest mothering days I’ve had yet. But let me back up. Tuesday night, Lucia threw up for the first time. Three times. Twice in her crib, once all over me. Poor baby. We had several hours of crib-sheet-changing and cleaning up and soothing, and then she went back to sleep and woke up none the worse for wear. We’re not sure what brought it on, but she has been completely fine since then. But whew. That was an experience. The first of many such experiences, I’m sure.

Thursday night, I found myself up all night with a stomach thing. Not a wink of sleep. And in the morning, I felt like I might not be able to get out of bed; alas, Lucia chirped her I’m-awake signal, and my day began. I wasn’t sick anymore—but completely exhausted and weak and dehydrated from the night before, shaky and light-headed. Andrew had some fires to put out at work and couldn’t stay home. This was a tough day. All I wanted to do was lie down. Thankfully, Lucia had a good day—lots of happy playing and quiet reading, very little fussing. If she’d had a fussy day I’m not sure I would have survived. As it was, she hated when I would lie down on the floor, hurrying over and pulling at my sweater to get me to sit up. When Andrew called at 5 on the dot and announced he was two blocks from home, I nearly cried with relief.

We’ve had a rough weekend, too. Lucia’s first molar, which made its first appearance last Saturday, is still working its way through—one side is about through. And she is miserable. She is not ordinarily a very drool-y baby, yet drool is just dripping off her chin. She’s clingy and fussy. She wants little but teething biscuits. The molar area just looks terrible, and I know it hurts.

And it also hurts me to know there are what—ten molars? Eight? Perhaps the first will be the killer. Let’s hope. And let’s hope this coming week is a bit less arduous.

Oh--and you lucky people who have parents living within an hour's drive? I hated you on Friday. It is so not fair.

Monday, February 07, 2011

On the Stoop in Slippers

Last week, I left the house without shoes. I had on my slippers, and I made it all the way to the front stoop—with three locked doors behind me—before I realized something was wrong. A friend today told me she once walked half a block without any shoes at all. She has two kids, and I have no doubt I will one day get to that point as well.

Such is my mind these days. It’s hard to remember that I was once among the world’s most organized people. I’ve always made reminder notes, but more because it was just a way to stay organized; now, if I don’t write something down, it’s out of my head in two seconds. I’ve been late with our credit card payment three times in six months (fortunately, they’re forgiving—so far). I’ve lost an entire envelope of tax receipts from the first half of 2010 (surely put “somewhere safe” for the move, and also, surely, never to be seen again). I’ve lost 30,000 Dividend Miles from USAirways because I didn’t write a reminder to redeem some miles before their expiration. Yesterday I left the oven on for two hours after baking a loaf cake; I’d pressed the wrong button when I went to turn it off. When I went for a manicure on Sunday (an hour’s mothering respite!) I absentmindedly put my fingers into the bowl the manicurist presented for my rings, removing them only when she gently prodded, “No, miss, your rings.” And when I was making corn chowder Sunday night, I measured out the corn while the onions cooked, and then promptly dumped some of the corn into the onions instead of the bowl with the corn. Not a soup-ruining move, but irritating nonetheless. Come to think of it, it’s pretty hard to ruin soup, which suggests to me that I should probably stick to soup for a little while.

Lucia is nearly sixteen months old, so new-mommy brain is no longer an excuse. Instead, I have first-molar brain, forty-minute-nap brain, Wheels-on-the-Bus-a-million-times brain. Nothing is organized anymore. I did some filing this weekend for the first time since June. Usually by this time my tax stuff is ready to send off to the accountant; right now it’s in a pile, bills with receipts with 1099s. The house is in permanent disarray.

This is why, I think, it’s so satisfying to do my editing work these days. The rest of my life might be a travesty of organization; but I can fuse comma splices, undangle dangling modifiers, align verb tense, and iron out parallelism until a manuscript sparkles. I may not be doing yoga these days, but carefully tending to tangled prose is a kind of mental rest as well.